In: ballert

Louis Riel | Chester Brown, 1999 – 2003
February 23, 2022

Louis Riel | Chester Brown, 1999 – 2003
Drawn & Quarterly, 2003

It seems an appropriate time to revisit Chester Brown’s excellent graphic novel Louis Riel (A Comic – Strip Biography), with Louis Riel Day having recently passed. I also say this not just due to recent domestic terrorism in Ottawa, but also as when I was living in Saskatoon, with a statue of Riel’s ally Gabriel Dumont prominently installed near the South Saskatchewan River, the reality of contested narratives about history was necessary to consider. An ongoing debate in Niagara, about a statue of a soldier glorifying the North-West Rebellion being removed from St. Catharines city hall, indicates this isn’t solely a regional concern.

More to this point: an exhibition at the now defunct Mendel Art Gallery a few years ago, on the work of James Henderson, displayed a full scale portrait of the judge who presided over Riel’s ‘trial’, where his execution was a foregone conclusion, and this fact was – still – not particularly welcomed when imparted to various tours and visitors. 

“Chester Brown reinvents the comic-book medium to create the critically acclaimed historical biography Louis Riel, winning the Harvey Awards for best writing and best graphic novel for his compelling, meticulous, and dispassionate retelling of the charismatic, and perhaps insane, nineteenth-century Métis leader. Brown coolly documents with dramatic subtlety the violent rebellion on the Canadian prairie led by Riel, who some regard a martyr who died in the name of freedom, while others consider him a treacherous murderer.” (from here)

One of many fine publications from Drawn & Quarterly, this is one of a number of Brown’s excellent comics, and has been cited, along with Jeff Lemire (with his anthology Essex County) as an example of how ‘comics’ in Canada are engaging with historical narratives that are very relevant today. 

Minimalist in format, this text fills in gaps that many of us were left with, studying history in school. Several years ago, in conversation with people from various parts of Canada, it was telling that Riel had been demonized in some historical accounts, completely ignored in others and given a more honest treatment in others. It’s an overused quote, but seems apt here : My people will sleep for one hundred years, but when they awake, it will be the artists who give them their spirit back. (Riel, as cited in The Defiant Imagination : Why Culture Matters (2004) by Max Wyman)

Louis Riel was the first comic book to receive a grant from the Canada Council for the Arts and has won three Harvey Awards.

A preview can be seen here and it can be purchased from Drawn & Quarterly, if you can’t find a copy at your local library. ~ Bart Gazzola

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The Museum of Everything: Volume #4 – You’re Not Only Human
January 24, 2022

The Museum of Everything: Volume #4 – You’re Not Only Human
Everything Ltd/The Museum of Everything
The Museum of Everything 

I have collected a lot of catalogues over the years. Some for shows I’ve visited in person, and some for shows I simply wish I had visited. In 2013, I visited the Venice Biennale. It was pure serendipity that the inspiration (and title) for the 2012 iteration, curated by Massimiliano Gioni, was The Encyclopedic Palace: the concept first patented in 1955 by self-taught artist, Marino Auriti, of an imaginary museum “meant to house all worldly knowledge, bringing together the greatest discoveries of the human race, from the wheel to the satellite.”

Having focused a great deal on ‘outsider art’ during my Masters degree, I was bonkers thrilled to be able to see an exhibition carrying this much weight on the international level, blurring the lines between self taught and academic artists. Aside from the spectacle that was the main exhibition, one of the greatest finds for me was a tiny little pavilion set up outside by The Museum of Everything.  Wandering through their set up of reproductions of work by Carlo Zinelli, mounted on pillars, I ended up at their bookstore/gift shop and found one of my most prized possessions to this day.

The Museum of Everything was launched by James Brett in Britain in 2010, and has quickly grown into an institution celebrating who they refer to as, “untrained, unintentional, undiscovered and unclassifiable artists of modern times”.  This particular catalogue documents their fourth exhibition, which was presented at Selfridges, London from September 1 – October 25, 2011. The exhibition presented over 500 artists, including the first UK retrospective of Judith Scott – a personal heroine of art-making. The catalogue includes 225 pages of full colour works, organized into categories of studios. Prior to this catalogue, I had been aware of some of the more well known studios/organizations/institutions, like Creative Growth, Gugging and Creativity Explored, but the index provided me with a blueprint for places I would grow to research more, to study, to acquire works from, and to include in exhibitions I dreamt up. Each section includes reproductions of works, alongside statements by the studios they were created in, and cursory descriptions of the artists’ general oeuvre. The catalogue almost becomes a collection of manifestos of support for those creating outside of the academic tradition.

Included in the boxed set is The Appendix of Everything, featuring interviews with heavy hitters like Cindy Sherman, Massimiliano Gioni, David Byrne, and revered director of White Columns, Matthew Higgs. The collection of conversations is informal, accessible, and honest. Many quotes have stuck with me to this day. One in particular, was Higgs’ description of what he felt when he first encountered Creative Growth. “Art was being made for reasons that remained out of reach”. For me, this is the art I’ve developed a tidal wave of emotional reaction to. I look through this catalogue regularly, finding patterns, similarities, moments of clarity, and moments of joy.

You can acquire this catalogue by visiting the Museum of Everything’s website. Also note that there are now 7 catalogues for exhibitions curated by the Museum. ~ Lisa Kehler

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